I’ve been writing about the day in the spring of 2012 when my husband and I had the conversation to separate, the day I took the same run for the first time, when the sensation of running both towards and away from something was so urgent I felt I might spin right off the land into the deep, endless waters.
At the end of 2012, I created a Spotify playlist titled “2012, You Suck, But Your Music Did Not.” It is still one of my favorite playlists and it perfectly encapsulates that year.
2012 did suck in many ways, my God. It was the year my husband and I separated – right in the middle of it, July he moved out – and before that and after for a while it was wall to wall pain. That winter I shoveled my porch and car out of impossible heights of snow from Hurricane Nemo, alone, with a blinding hangover. It took me eight hours. I threw up twice. I navigated single parenting for the first time with a three year-old and we both cried a lot.
No year is all bad, of course, but some we are so eager and so relieved to usher out the door – like a long visit from an unwanted guest who has left one too plates of crusty food in our kitchen, taken one too many shits in our bathroom. Good riddance, we think, as we wave them off and relish the click of our front door shutting with a swoosh of cold air from the outside.
I started to make a playlist for 2014 music this morning but realized most of this year’s songs were recycled from the years prior. So while I don't have the music for it, the title of the playlist would definitely be 2014: A Beautiful Struggle.
5 Beautiful Things I Struggled for in 2014
1. Impossible things became possible.
I went to my first AA meeting in July of 2013 but struggled hard against the idea of being a sober person, of giving up drinking, of all the ways I and my life would have to change, for the better part of a year. I could go to meetings and put together days and make new connections and as much as not drinking felt like finally stopping the bleeding on a massive head wound, I just couldn’t fathom keeping a hold on it, and I couldn’t. It felt… impossible.
But then, things that were impossible – small and large – became possible, simply by doing them once, as practice, as a trial, even if it was uncomfortable or against my will. For example, I drank at home a lot. I could not imagine my home as a place where I did not drink wine at night. But one night, I didn’t. And then another. And another. And another.
It was impossible to imagine traveling without drinking. Especially to the places my work brings me and the people I travel with: Vegas, New York, San Francisco. Early in the year, I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t know how, didn’t want to, couldn’t. But then, in June I went to San Francisco and I didn’t drink. Then, I went to New York in September and did drink, but went again in October, and then again in November and December and didn’t. Then, Vegas. I stayed sober in fucking Vegas for three days in October.
There were one million other impossible moments, too. I wrote about one of them here, at the end of this post, where I talk about the time I rode the train to Boston with a wine bottle between my legs and didn’t drink it.
Any time we do an impossible thing, we break open our brain, and then we can be put together in a new way. I broke my brain a lot this year.
2. I built a space where I could tell the truth.
It sounds silly, but one of the greatest things I did this year was create a new Instagram account where I could speak the truth about sobriety, myself, how I was really feeling and doing. I have had this blog for a long time, and had several ones before it. I’ve journaled since I was eight. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and SnapChat and although I’m pretty open in general, I needed a space where I could write down the exact truth without leaving out even 1%. I needed to create a new circle, my own space, without co-workers and friends and family and people who might have some kind of opinion or concern about what I was saying. I needed to be able to scream into the internet to complete strangers.
So, I created @iflyatnight_ on July 21 while I was on a work trip in San Jose and posted this:
At the time I did not know that there was this amazing, strong, loving group of cool people out there who would scoop me up as one of their fellow weirdos and carry me along. It’s been so fun and so important. When I posted about getting my 90-day chip yesterday over one hundred of those other little weirdos gave me a high-five.
We all need a place where we can find our voice and tell the whole mess of our truth. It is not enough to say it alone or on paper or even to God. We need each other – at least one other person – to say to, “Here I am, all 100% of me, just like this,” and to be seen and recognized and reflected back as beautiful.
And my sobriety brother John who wrote this beautiful poem for me one day:
3. I met fucking Elizabeth Gilbert!
I love this woman. I have loved her since I read Eat, Pray Love in 2007 on a plane to DC when I was suffocating with the truth I could not swallow: I was married (recently, in fact) and I did not want to be married. I loved someone and also wished I had a take-back. I recognized her story and her words so completely as my own and took immense solace in them, despite being crushed by their truth. As a woman and a writer and a seeker, I carry her words around in my heart daily. To meet her and introduce her to Alma and watch as she and Alma exchanged words in front of a room full of people was totally magical and fun and surreal. Also, her Facebook page is such a great source of love and community and wisdom. If you don’t follow, I recommend.
4. On that note, I read a few really important books.
I read a lot of wonderful books this year. Two that stand out:
Gift from The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.”
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
5. I learned that we don’t do it for anyone else.
There was no light bulb moment that got me to see I had to do it just for me. I don’t even know if those words are the right words. I just know that at some point, through falling down six hundred and seventy thousand times and getting up just one fraction of an inch more times than that, a little flicker-light inside of me started to fight for my own life because there’s something in me I don’t want to let die. Because I want to dare to live for real.
I wrote this as it relates to getting sober, but think it applies to really anything that breaks you open and requires reinvention at the gut level: losing weight, grieving loss, being a parent, fighting disease.
I love this year for what it brought. Onward.
Last night I went to my second Radiohead concert. My first was in 2008 at the same venue. I was in the early part of my pregnancy.
It was a crazy experience attending three years later with the space of everything that’s happened in between.
I remember feeling terrified and out of my skin at the 2008 show. The music washed over me, though, and does what music does to our souls: sanctifies, purifies, connects and heals. The idea that Alma was absorbing her first concert through my belly swirled up hope and anticipation at the things I could share. Like music. I bought a t-shirt at the end of the show with the lyrics from 15 Steps printed on it:
You used to be alright. What happened?
So, three years later. And I’m asking myself the same thing: what happened? I say it with just enough humor to bring levity. It has certainly not been a terrible three years. Many of the most wonderful, magical moments have taken place. There’s been plenty of love and laughter and even joy.
But it has also been tremendously difficult at times. In ways I couldn’t have known when purchasing that t-shirt. It’s telling of where my head was at the time, and also a bit prescient.
I’ve been waiting to put down the words in this post. To say that Ryan and I are officially going our separate ways.. I couldn’t spit them out, at least not on here, until now. But I knew that eventually I would; that I’d need this space to write.
And today, on the heels of last night, it feels like the right time.
I didn’t buy a t-shirt last night. If I did, it would have different lyrics on it. They would be:
"Like I’m falling out of bed From a long and weary dream Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying.”
This doesn’t mean I’m free or that my heart isn’t heavy. But having arrived at a very difficult decision, and one that was terrifying and extremely painful to make, there’s both a sense of falling and freedom. From making the decision you did not think you could make, and plunging into a chapter that is entirely unknown. I believe it is a statement of hope.
My dad used to dance with me. I’m not sure I actually remember it, or I just believe I do because I saw it on video 1,000 times growing up. But I do remember listening to music in our house, especially on weekend mornings. Some that would be considered bad, even in nice music circles, but I can recite the words to almost any Anne Murray song on command and certain bits will choke me up. Yeah. My brother must remember it too, because a few days ago, during one of our ongoing Blackberry Messenger conversations, I made reference to our less than lovely financial situation. And Joe. (This is why I love him, why I’d be friends with him even if he weren’t my only brother.) He says:
"And even though we ain’t got money." "I’m so in love with ya honey."
To which I immediately picked up and started humming the rest of the song…then singing… then singing loud, “AND IN THE MORNIN’, WHEN I RISE, BRING A TEAR OF JOY TO MY EYEEES, AND TELL ME, EVERY-THINGS, GONNA BE AL-RIGHT.”
So. I was singing Anne Murray to my phone, but on the upside, whatever I was so twisted up about had vanished and I was belly laughing.
I want Alma to know about music, so I play it every day. Mostly for me, but sometimes just for her, meaning I’ll play a song that we can dance to and I can sing. When she was growing in my belly I would press the little headphones of my ipod to it and wonder what the music sounded like underwater. She went to a few concerts with me that way, too. When we first brought her home from the hospital, I remember playing Sigur Ros and watching her drift off. I played Bon Iver for her over and over and over, because that’s what I’d been doing the entire year prior, so. Sometimes she seems to react to certain songs, or perhaps she’s just reacting to me “dancing”. Tonight I held her before bed and sang to Ziggy Marley’s acoustic version of “Love is My Religion” and she tried to eat my face. We’ve got time.
I have a lot of memories around music. Memories that I can taste and feel and smell more than see. I don’t recall a lot about my parents being married, and only small clips of moments before the age of 9 or 10 are available to me anymore. But I do remember sifting through my dad’s record collection and putting on the giant headphones that swallowed each side of my head and suctioned me away. I listened to the soundtrack to Annie and Grease that way until I could sing every single song on my own. I listened to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, even though the songs gave me nightmares. I listened to Tina Turner’s songs and coreographed entire videos, complete with giant hair and too short mini-skirts, where I was the only star and the only audience. This is how I remember my weekends; how I remember spending a lot of my time growing up.
Later, my dad owned a country western bar and we used to go there before it opened so he could get things done. There wasn’t much for my brother and I to do while we waited, so I’d turn on the lights that hung over the dance floor, put in Chris Ledoux or Garth Brooks or Brooks & Dunn, turn up the volume and take the stage or perform some hideous solo version of the two-step or a line dance. I can hear those songs exactly as they came out on the giant speakers and echoed through the empty room; I can smell the stale beer, grease and cigarette ashes stomped into the carpet and wood. I was almost a teenager at that point and would’ve been too self-conscious to do that in front of anyone else, but I remember feeling so happy and free and like there were a million possibilities.
I’ve been thinking about music more lately, simply because I can listen to it again. It’s not that I stopped listening altogether, but over the past several months I noticed myself forcing it, turning down the volume, stopping songs mid-track, or just closing it up completely for days at a time. I can’t explain it other than to say it would push me over - or into - a place where I couldn’t breathe and my heart was squeezed too tightly. And I’d be pissed. Pissed that whatever was going on had made it so that I couldn’t even listen to music. MUSIC. I was worried that my insides were turning a little black, or worse, that I was turning into someone made of glass, who would break if the wrong song came on the radio, or they heard someone say something mean to a spider.
But one day, or over the course of many days, weeks, months, I started noticing that I was listening again. Even to the sad ones. And I didn’t have to turn down the volume.
This is good news. It means I’m not missing out on things. Like this:
Tonight I returned to Baptiste Yoga Studio in Cambridge for the first time since July 10. I remember the exact date because it was the last day of a 40 day bootcamp that I did there earlier this year. With the exception of a few days early on in the 40 day experience, I was pregnant and did not know it. When the 40 days were up I was so relieved that I didn’t have to return there again - not until I was ready at least - because holy hell was that a rough ride. I remember thinking it was much harder than I thought it should have been, and having been semi-regular to the practice I thought I knew what to expect. But physically, mentally, emotionally, it was just really tough. I threw up a couple times during morning practices, and I blamed it on the heat or dehydration or the night of drinking before (NOT part of the program). I also cried more times than not, which was equally surprising. I’d cried before, during practice or at the end while lying in shivasana, from the mere release of letting go whatever it was that I’d been dragging around. But every single time? I’ve come to learn since then that yoga can have that effect - through releasing your physical body you often tap into and unlock emotional stuck points and memories you’ve been storing. At the time, though, I just thought I was a mess, and in many ways I was. I mean, I was pregnant and I didn’t even know it. Nevermind anything else, my body was busy trying to build a human and I was dragging it through grueling 90 minute practices in 100 degree heat every single day. Not kind.
I also went on a fruit fast diet for a few days somewhere in there. I remember being blindingly tired as well but too stubborn, too frustrated to give in. Was I not listening to ANYTHING that they were saying in the practice? All that stuff about being where you are, surrendering, having some compassion for yourself and your body, letting go and just BREATHING now and then? I wasn’t. In fact, when my mind goes back there now I can still feel the tightening sensation that accompanies holding one’s breath for a very long time.
But that too was part of where I was and part of the journey. Toward the end of the 40 days I decided to try yoga at South Boston Yoga. It was such a breath of fresh air for my mind and my body at the time, to go through a practice that was completely different in every way and it wasn’t hot! Hallelujiah it wasn’t hot in there. My mindset at the time was that it couldn’t be as good or as powerful as Baptiste, because physcialy it just felt so much easier, not to mention the instructor made jokes and laughed and the general pace was just slower and less intense. But it was good enough, and it was so much closer to home, and I just needed a break from all the madness that ensued in that 40 day program for a while. Little did I know that I was cracking open the door to all the other aspects of yoga that until then I’d been unaware of (namely, all the non-physical aspects that I’d heard of buy ignored I just want a good workout blah blah blah). And little did I know that I’d end up in a teacher training program through the first instructor I had there at SBY, and also that, oh, I was going to find out a thing or two about a “good” and “powerful” experience.
I didn’t think I’d return to Baptiste until my pregnant days were past me. If you’d have asked me a month ago I’d have said “no way Jose, can’t do it.” But I started to get inquisitive about it a few days ago and today I found myself checking the schedule and the hesitation was gone, I actually felt excited about taking my pregnant body to class and seeing how it felt. What I discounted was that I would also be taking my pregnant mind to class, too, and the host of things I’ve cultivated through teacher training and just living life in the past few months. Namely, a new well of patience and a some compassion for where I am and also where I am not these days.
And it was so, so great. I found myself comforted by the known sequences and habituation of the practice, the familiar jolly Scottish accent of one of my favorite instructors, the room itself, and even the heat - the heat! It reminded me that change can be ever so incremental, maddeningly unnoticeable until something reminds you of your previous state and you are able to see the contrast so clearly. Oh, so I haven’t been beating my head against a wall? I haven’t been walking in circles for days and weeks and months on end? I can grow and open up and things can change? Phew. PHEW.
Now, it wasn’t all the perfection of yoga practice as we know it. I couldn’t do some things very gracefully and I was slipping and sliding along the mat. But I realized I have a lot more space in myself than I did before. I know a lot more about the meaning behind the poses, anatomically speaking, and I can pick up on a lot of the asanas (poses) which before just sounded like Sanskrit jibberish. All those things are kind of fun and neat. But more importantly I let myself stop when I needed to and congratulated myself for not accompanying those stops with one bit of agression or the self-degredation I’m so good at. And perhaps most importantly I understood why I was there, and that it has very little to do with sweating and bending, and a lot to do with letting go and letting go. At the end of the practice, Gregor (the instructor) said something so profound, and without any contemplation I knew exactly what he meant, and I recognized that last time I was there I would not have. He said (in Scottish brogue, it sounds so much better) "Let your mind be guided by your life, instead of allowing yourself to believe that your mind IS your life." Oh, these yogi people. They’re just full of these gems. I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t even pre-meditate these bits of wisdom he bestows on a sea of sweaty, vulnerable bodies. They just roll right off his tongue like an extension of his being as natural as his arm or leg. But to the rest of us, it takes a long time to understand what something like that means, and more importantly, to actually live it.
And here is where I bring it all back to music, again. Laying there in shivasana reminded me of this song by Bon Iver that I’ve held so close to my heart for months now. It’s the kind of song I can’t hear without feeling a shift in my gut and a little tightness in my throat because it’s just so damn beautiful. And like all good music it bestows a certain feeling of recognition, a shared experience, so that when you think maybe you’re all alone you hear a certain song and go, "Thank God, my hips don’t lie EITHER!" or "No, that’s right, you just don’t know ‘bout me." Or in this case, when Justin Vernon sings “Re: Stacks” you understand that someone else has found themselves in the midst of something seemingly too tough and that eventually, eventually there is an unlocking and a lift away.